Adventures in Refrigeration
Water in the Congamond Lakes in Massachusetts was spring-fed, and produced high-quality ice. Fortunately, the New Haven-Northampton railroad line ran nearby, so it was simple to load big hunks of the stuff with plenty of protective sawdust into box cars bound for New York City. The box cars returned loaded with manure from the city’s horses, which was doubtless just as high-quality as the ice.
The back-and-forth trade didn’t stop there: the manure fertilized tobacco crops destined for New Yorkers’ cigars. This worked out so well that the Congamond Lakes ice production became a major source of ice in New England from 1900 – 1925. Fredrick Tudor, known as the “Ice King,” made millions of dollars. One presumes the box cars were cleaned of the high-quality manure before more ice went back in.
Commercial ice harvesting was a big enough job that the community turned out together to do it. Local farmers also harvested ice for their own use. Few people bother anymore, but Dennis Picard, the director of the Storrowtown Village Museum in West Springfield, Massachusetts, owns a complete set of antique ice-cutting tools. The photos show him demonstrating how farmers practiced the fine art of wielding ice-saws, lifting tongs, and pike poles on White’s Pond in West Suffield, Connecticut. More information is available here.
Robert Stewart is on the board of the Society for Industrial Archaeology.